Wednesday, April 15, 2009
EDWARD II by Christopher Marlowe
While Marlowe's Edward II is not a great work, it is notable for its matter-of-fact handling of the king's sexuality. As with the lesbian subplot in As You Like It, the homosexual theme exists on the surface of the play. It is the plot; it's not submerged into a subtext and/or coded in symbols and euphemisms that require decryption by Queer Theorists. The king's love for Gaveston is obvious, passionate and real. A comparison with the 'latent,' subtextual gay themes in the fiction and drama of later centuries puts into question notions of progress, at least in representations of this portion of humanity. But that's an obvious point. More interesting is the social context that authorizes such a work, makes it possible (for it would not have been possible to write this play in this way during the later 19th and early 20th centuries). It seems that Renaissance humanism, in taking to heart Terence's maxim, included same-sex love among the human things that were not alien to it, as evidenced also in Shakespeare's sonnets (as if further evidence were required). English literature lost this attitude somewhere between Lord Rochester and Jane Austen. The good news is that we seem to be regaining it today. Yes, there is some good news, even on this blog.